LEXINGTON, Ky. – In enemy territory, Bradley Beal was hoping to avoid an awkward and unnecessary introduction. He is proud to have played at Florida, but with the Wizards at Rupp Arena for an exhibition game on Saturday, he would’ve been okay if the public address announcer had skipped telling a crowd full of Kentucky fans which school he attended.
“I already knew the boos were going to come,” Beal said. “I was hearing stuff coming in and out of the locker room about Florida. It’s always fun here. It’s a great arena. Great environment. You got to love the fan support.”
Though fans only seemed to react when Kentucky alums John Wall and Anthony Davis made plays, Beal did his best to steal the show against the New Orleans Pelicans. He scored 30 points – which would’ve been a new career high if the game counted – and had a chance to tie the game and possibly force overtime in the closing seconds.
But after getting inside the lane, Beal elevated for a layup only to have his shot clipped by the long arm of Pelicans big man Davis and the Wizards went on to lose, 93-89. Beal claimed that Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday fouled him on the drive, but at least the final result was better than his last time in Lexington.
“We lost by 20, so I don’t even want to remember that game no more,” Beal said, shaking his head.
The Wizards’ loss to the Pelicans was forgettable for another reason: They turned over the ball 28 times, which led to 29 points for New Orleans and proved to be the difference in an otherwise competitive preseason game.
After Martell Webster made a three-pointer to give the Wizards a 39-30 lead with 8 minutes 25 seconds left in the second quarter, they committed nine turnovers and allowed the Pelicans to finish the half on a 22-9 run. Wall led the Wizards with six turnovers, including three during the second-quarter meltdown. Beal had five turnovers.
Coach Randy Wittman blamed the miscues on “concentration. Trying the home-run passes. Almost like baseball. If you’re a singles hitter, you better hit a single.”
After the game, Wittman said he tried his best to put the Wizards’ sloppiness with the ball in perspective. “If we went out there before the game, and [NBA referee] Dick Bavetta was going to throw the ball for a jump ball and said, ‘Listen, Washington, the first 28 times you get it, you just got to hand it back to New Orleans. You don’t get to shoot a shot until they get it 28 times. Do you think we’d have a chance to win the game? And it was what, a four-point game? We can be pretty dangerous if we [take care of the ball], but it starts there.”
Despite the turnovers, the Wizards had a few encouraging performances from Beal, Wall and Al Harrington, who had his best game of the preseason with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Wall finished with 16 points and a game-high 11 assists and did a nice job of setting up his teammates and running the show. But he was upset with the outcome.
“My first time losing on that court, so it don’t feel great,” said Wall, who went 16-0 at Rupp Arena in his lone season at Kentucky. “But it was just exciting to get out there and see the fans, Big Blue Nation, again and have the opportunity to see the Midnight Madness and just enjoying it with my teammates.”
Wall gave the crowd its share of flashy highlights, as he scored on a layup after a nifty spin move and threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk. But Davis, his fellow Wildcat alum and former No. 1 overall pick, would upstage him.
In the third quarter, Wall seemingly had an easy breakaway dunk, but Davis snuck from behind to block it and send Wall crashing to the hardwood.
“I thought I was going to get a foul but it didn’t work. I wanted to go off one foot, but I was too tired. I knew he was going to come,” Wall said of Davis. “We did a great job, but I think it was just a good competitive game and a lot of excitement.”
Wall actually lost to Davis on two occasions this weekend. At halftime of Friday’s scrimmage, Kentucky Coach John Calipari summoned Davis and Wall to center court for a coin flip to determine which team would have access to Kentucky’s newly renovated locker room, which featured $3 million in upgrades. The locker room has two hot tubs, two cold tubs, a spacious training table and lounge. It also has the floor from the Superdome, where Kentucky won the 2012 national title.
Wall called heads, but Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans – who played for Calipari at Memphis – reached in and caught it, forcing Calipari to flip it again. Wall again called heads, but it came up tails, giving Davis’s Pelicans the chance to get dressed in the much nicer digs. An image of Wall driving to the basket is plastered along the wall inside with a statement that read, “Think like champion. Play like a champion. Act like a champion.”
“It’s an amazing locker room. Off the chart. Probably up there, better than a lot of NBA locker rooms,” Wall said. “It’s what you get when you come to Kentucky. No locker room would’ve made us play different, but I think they would’ve liked having more space in here.”
Wall remains revered in Lexington after proving that the school could once again attract truly elite talents, but Davis consistently received a louder ovation, proving the enhanced popularity that comes from winning a title at the college basketball-crazed school. Wall said the failure of Calipari’s first recruiting class at Kentucky to win the championship wasn’t because of a lack of effort.
“That was our goal as a team, but we fell short of that,” Wall said. “It was just exciting to see any other team get one. As long as we got eight [national championships] and keep getting more, that’s okay with me.”
Calipari attended the game and Wall said he told him, “Just keep growing. Keep doing what I’m doing. Keep leading. We’re going to make the playoffs. He’s very proud.”
But Wall really wanted to leave town with a win. After the game, he spoke to Davis. “I told him, ‘My teammate got fouled but they didn’t call it.’ He said, ‘I blocked it.’ I said, ‘I already know.’ ”
Davis stayed perfect at Rupp Arena.